With Harry Maguire not fully fit and Trent Alexander-Arnold ruled out of Euro 2020 due to injury, England's backline requires slight tweaks.
England got off to a positive start in the Euro 2020, with a 1-0 win over Croatia in their opener. It was a welcome start for the Three Lions after losing to the Croatian side in the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup. A second-half goal from Raheem Sterling was enough for Gareth Southgate’s boys to start the tournament with three points. There were many positives in the English game that night, with the midfielders – Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice – winning most of the accolades. However, the one concern from that game was personnel selected in the back four.
As expected, Kyle Walker and John Stones started at right-back and center-back, respectively. Tyrone Mings was a surprise addition to the backline. The Aston Villa defender has been playing good football for a while in the Premier League, but the only reason he started against Croatia was due to Harry Maguire’s unavailability. The Manchester United defender picked up an injury against Aston Villa at the business end of the season and did not play another match since. With Maguire still not fully fit, Mings starting the game was understandable.
But the main question mark was over Southgate’s decision to play Kieran Trippier as left-back. His decision to start right-back Trippier on the left of a back four despite having Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell in his squad raised a lot of eyebrows. The decision baffled many critics and fans as both Shaw and Chilwell had an exceptional domestic season with Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.
The head coach believed that the Atletico Madrid full-back starting next to Mings, who was making his debut appearance at a major tournament, will be helpful for the Aston Villa defender.
Southgate told BBC Radio 5Live about his decision to play Trippier on the left, “We felt that his talking across the backline and his ability to get out and stop crosses quickly and his experience on a day like today – alongside Tyrone Mings, who is relatively early in his international career – would be a good stabilising element.”
Many people may not criticise the judgement now that England have won the match, but that cannot be said in the future as well. It is not clear whether the coach will continue with the same backline throughout the tournament. The belief is at some point in the tournament Shaw or Chilwell will be included in the starting line-up, which is exactly what the fans will also want to see. Going forward both of them will offer lot more than Trippier.
They both are good with crossing or drilling the ball across the face of the goal for their teammates to put it in the net. Trippier, primarily playing as a right-back, will not be able to cross the ball with the same efficiency with his left foot. He may have to cut inside to cross the ball with his favoured right foot, which might allow the opponent defenders to close him down quickly.
Playing a right-footed defender on the left-back can help the team shore up the defensive side of the game, but can diminish the team’s attacking threat on that flank. That is where Shaw and Chilwell come in. On the back of an impressive domestic season with their respective Premier League clubs, both players will support their attackers to great effect on the left side.
When Maguire has been fit in the last few years, he has been an automatic starter for England. An established member under Southgate, Maguire’s injury trouble will undoubtedly be a blow for the Three Lions. For the time being, the coach is sticking with Mings in the defence. Having a left-footed centre-back in Mings is a blessing for any side, but it is not clear whether he will retain his place if the Manchester United defender is fully fit.
Maguire has returned to full training last week, putting him in contention for the match against Scotland on Friday. However, it is not clear whether Maguire will play in England’s second group match. But one thing is certain – if Southgate is going to rely on Maguire this tournament, he must include him in the group stage. After being on the bench for so long, throwing him right into the knockout stages can be detrimental.
Speaking about the same, former England defender Gary Neville was quoted as saying by Sky Sports, “If Harry Maguire can get back to a level, he will come back in. But if he comes back in, I think if it’s not against Scotland, it has to be against Czech Republic. You couldn’t make Harry Maguire’s first game back a knockout game. Maguire must surface in the next two matches, otherwise I fear you won’t see him in the tournament, and it would be Stones and Mings to continue.”
Southgate has a lot of tough calls to make as the race for places is heating up in the group stage. It will be interesting to see how he will set his backline going forward in the tournament. One thing is for sure, the coach needs to find the correct balance in the defence if England are to go long in the tournament.